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  • Writer's pictureHalle Arbaugh


Updated: Feb 28, 2019

There was a time in Hollywood in which deals were made within the walls of The Brown Derby and the secretaries of powerful Hollywood executives were former actresses who never made it, when the dropping of a first name – Greta, Irene, Spencer, Bette, Ginger – wasn’t done merely to impress, but also to shorten the conversations of Hollywood’s major players, and no one ever had to ask to understand to whom exactly the names referred.  At least, this is the 'Café Society' that Woody Allen presents in his latest film.

It is one in which Hollywood looks in its storybook cinematography something like a small town where the sun is a present fixture, in which ordinary citizens move seamlessly through the societal circles of Hollywood’s elite, and the cafés of the city serve as stages upon which romantic woes unfold with the seriousness of classic screwball comedies.

Woody Allen, who wrote and directed the lighthearted film, follows a similar narrative arc to that of a film which may have premiered at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre back in the 50s: the naïve, good-hearted hero Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg), a New Yorker who comes to Hollywood to work for his big shot-agency-owner uncle Phil (Steve Carell), meets the quick-witted girl Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) and falls in love, only to find the picture-perfect romance disrupted by a comical twist: Vonnie and Phil have been carrying on an affair.

Meanwhile, there’s a gangster on the other side of the country pushing his enemies into cars and promptly pouring concrete over their bodies alongside the Hudson River. There’s a glamorous blonde (Blake Lively) who quickly snags Bobby once he’s a successful nightclub owner, her character reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe’s in the classic screwball 'Some Like It Hot' (1959), but without the wit of writer/director Billy Wilder or the endearing succulence Monroe had. In her character’s introduction, Allen even has Lively in a clinging silver dress, walking through a jazzy nightclub, the dress and her blonde hair catching the light through the smoky dark.

Left to right: Blake Lively in Cafe Society/Amazon Films, Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot/MGM.

Unlike 'Some Like It Hot,' which is full of comedic surprises, 'Cafe Society' has more than its share of predictability. The film waltzes along with the momentum of a lazy daydream, and when it comes time for the plot to thicken into hilarity, it simply provokes a few moments of amusement. Upon exiting the theater, I heard numerous comments that the film was “sweet,” “nice,” and that it “wasn’t the most exciting movie.” Make no mistake about it: Allen’s intention was not to put forth a nice film reflecting upon the Golden Age. Instead, it seems that Allen drew upon the mechanisms of some of the directing giants of the past: the screwball arc and periodic voice-overs, the strong Rosalind-Russell lead that is Vonnie – while dropping in a few of his own: the insecure and amusingly self-aware Bobby might as well be young Allen from 'Annie Hall'(1977), and the film’s best scene is a trademark Allen one, featuring a Jewish family conversing around a dining room table – in order to create a Golden-Era-esque classic stamped “Woody.” Allen’s writing is too underdeveloped for that, and the picture never quite knows whether it wants to be comedic or a melancholic tale of unrequited love in the spirit of William Wyler’s 'Roman Holiday' (1953).

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